This season has been a little rough for Purdue, but a win over any B1G team right now is a good win, no matter how it was won. Though Purdue dominated Michigan Friday night, they certainly struggled with the Spartans last night in a close match on Belin Court. The terrors of the back court seemed to haunt Purdue again. I love this team, but I have to be honest, if I were to form a drinking game for back court play, we could have been drunk by the end of the 1st set because even Carly Cramer did not have a good night. Michigan State out-dug Purdue 69-56 last night. In fact, Purdue has 2 less digs in their sweep against Michigan than they had against Sparty. It just shows you how important the back court is in the game of volleyball.
Carly Cramer had 17 digs, backed up by Neill, Fox, and Turner who had 11, 11, and 10 digs respectively. Neill had some good digs at times, but her freshman status did show as some of her digs went flying into the stands, out of bounds, or back over the net for an MSU free ball. Fox had probably her best game in a while and certainly has improved, but still had some errors. Heck, even with these four getting double digit digs, they all had plenty of errors and the blame can be spread amongst not only them, but anyone playing in the back court as well.
James and I have talked about the fact that if this team not only wants to go into the tourney, but also go deep into the tourney, their back court has to improve. I know digging is hard, heck when I play volleyball, I hate being in the back court, but these players are also at the collegiate level at a Top 25 Volleyball Institution. When you play at a big school like Purdue, you're expected to play well. The one person who I can give a break is Neill, rookie mistakes are not easy to overcome, and Cramer probably just had one bad game. But outside of that, the back court is still weak overall. The team can't rely on Cramer and Turner to carry Purdue into Mackey Arena for the Sweet 16, other players are going to have to not only step up, but also remain consistent.
I think I have given enough crap to the back court, I respect every player and love this team, but Friday and Saturday's games showed that the back court really is the big problem this year. Now onto the other aspects of the game.
Michigan State came out on fire tonight, dominating the first set, getting the lead early and never looking back, outhitting Purdue 0.360 to 0.067. Yikes. Purdue came back in the 2nd set and led most of the way, even having a 21-16 lead, but almost gave it up as they won it 25-23. The third set was the most interesting, however.
MSU opened up with a 3-0 lead, Purdue managed to over come it with a 6-5 lead, but quickly gave it up as Sparty rolled to a 12-9 lead. Though Purdue would make up for it, the lead for either team never became larger than 3 points. Purdue and MSU entered a 23-23 tie, which only began a very tense part of the game.
After the 23-23 tie, there were 7 set points that were each erased by the other team's response, or an error. To be honest, MSU could have won it, but they goofed at the worst possible times. MSU was up 29-28 and had the set point, but Taylor Galloway goofed like no other and hit a service error, allowing Purdue to tie. To make matters worse, when MSU tied it at 30 each, Jazmine White goofed with her own service error, giving Purdue the 8th set point of the set that would ultimately give Purdue the set win 32-30. On my Twitter, all I had to say was "Ya goofed, MSU!" They could have won it, but those service errors came at the worst possible time.
Luckily for MSU, Purdue was tired from the 3rd set and Sparty dominated the 4th set, as the blew open to an 18-12 lead and win the set 25-18. Shondell even recognized at that point that the 4th set was out of reach, pulled Turner and a few other starters off the court to rest them for the 5th set, and it probably paid off.
I always hate the 5th set, just as much as I hate overtime in basketball and football. You have to play your best, and one little error could cost you the game. Luckily, Shondell is the best 5-set coach in the NCAA right now, and was able to keep the team calm, cool, and collective before and during the set. I don't know what he says to the team, but I should ask him to give me a pep talk going into the 5th set because I'm always nervous as hell. For most of the set, MSU and Purdue traded points and the Spartans even got a 10-8 lead, but that was the last bright spot for MSU.
An Ariel Turner kill followed by 3 attack errors for Michigan State and a Turner block became Sparty's demise, as the lead was now up to 13-10. To add insult to injury for MSU, they goofed hard when Amanda Neill, someone who hits a soft serve, got an ace on MSU's miscommunication, give Purdue match point. Though MSU finally got a point during Purdue's run, Kiki Jones finished Sparty with a nasty kill, sending MSU home empty handed after a hard fought game.
Purdue's players of the game go to Val Nichol, Kiki Jones, and Catherine Rebarchak. Though Val had 3 service errors, she also racked up 15 kills and a 0.286 hitting percentage. Though Kiki only had 9 kills, every kill made a huge statement, and probably made a few dents on the brand new Belin Court. Catherine Rebarchak didn't play until the 3rd set after Annie Drews played lackluster in the 1st two sets and only had 5 kills, but her play boosted the team, and just like Kiki, every one of her kills made a statement. Ariel Turner had 20 kills and 11 digs, but she finished with an unfortunate triple-double as she also had 13 attack errors. It's safe to say that Turner cannot be relied on the whole season; though she's a great athlete, over-using her has proven to be bad for Purdue, just look at last season's Sweet 16 game.
This is the first time Purdue has won consecutive games since they beat Northwestern and Illinois back at the end of September, and this week Purdue travels to the Land of Lincoln to play Illinois and Northwestern on Wednesday and Saturday respectively. The Illinois game will be on BTN, so we will feature a Game Thread (we forgot to do one for the Michigan game, oops). As stated, Purdue needs to improve on their back court play, especially if they want to beat Illinois twice for the first time since who knows when.